These huge arts festivals can be overwhelming — how to figure out what's worth seeing? CP's sending someone to nearly every event PIFA's putting on over the next month to help you decide, so check back with Critical Mass all month long for comprehensive, ongoing reviews.
GROUP: Jazz Bridge
ATTENDED: Fri., April 5, 8 p.m.,, Society Hill Playhouse
CLOSES: April 13
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: In November, 1942, 25-year-old trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie is in Philadelphia leading his own quartet at the Downbeat Club… he’s anxious to play you a little and tell you a lot about Philadelphia jazz — back in the day.
WE THINK: The voice of Dizzy Gillespie is divided between two performers in Suzanne Cloud’s new play: the energetic actor Erin Fleming portrays the legendary trumpeter as a gregarious 25-year-old sharing his life story, while Duane Eubanks blows some pre-bop trumpet, fronting a quartet standing in for the one that Gillespie led seventy years earlier at Philly’s Downbeat Club.
As the director and co-founder of Jazz Bridge, Suzanne Cloud has long been a staunch advocate for Philly jazz as well as an educator and a performer in her own right. All of those aspects come together in her first play, which is equal parts biographical sketch, history lesson and musical demonstration.
Drawn from Gillespie’s memoir, To Be Or Not To Bop, the show captures the soon-to-be innovator at a key moment. He’s at a low point, just fired from the bands of Cab Calloway and Lucky Millinder, but on the verge of changing the direction of jazz forever with the “new way,” bebop.
A monologue with extensive musical interludes, Last Call at the Downbeat teeters between drama and lecture, at times overstuffed with names and dates. But despite some opening-night stumbles, Fleming is engaging enough to temper the show’s more didactic tendencies, and Eubanks’ band keeps the music center stage.
PREVIOUSLY IN PIFA: Evolution vs. …not.
Mara Model rounds up the events taking place during the fourth annual Israeli JazzPhest, happening all over town from Nov. 10-20.
✚ Oran Etkin & Kelenia
Oran Etkin and Kelenia have broken world boundaries with their uplifting and hypnotic sound. This week Etkin brings that diversity to the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz. The Grammy-nominated Israeli clarinetist will feature his newest album, Kelenia, which recently won the "Best World Beat Album" at the Independent Music Awards. Kelenia, named for a word in the Bambara language meaning ‘the love felt by those who are different from each other,” is rife with a diverse mix of West African Malian-, Jewish- and Middle Eastern-influenced tunes. Thu., Nov. 10, 8 p.m., $15, Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz, 738 S. Broad St., 215-893-9912, clefclubofjazz.org.
✚ Seeds of Sun
Seeds of Sun’s goal of introducing a new and exciting Israel sound hasn’t gone unnoticed. The internationally acclaimed ensemble returns to Philadelphia with its unique tribute to Israel’s legendary composer/lyricist, the late Naomi Shemer. Combining Shemer’s compositions with various genres of world music, this Kabbalat Shabbat concert celebrates the land and people of Israel and features crowd-pleasing selections of Shemer's greatest works. Fri., Nov. 11, 6 p.m., free, Congregation Beth Am Israel, 1301 Hagys Ford Road, Penn Valley, 610-667-1651.
✚ 4 Flute Flight Ensemble
Jazz flutist Mattan Klein, accompanied with his ensemble, the 4 Flute Flight, adds a new dimension to the genre by combining four unique flute voices with an energetic acoustic rhythm section. The result? A surprising world-jazz sound that draws from jazz, ’70s fusion and Middle Eastern and Brazilian music. Sun., Nov. 13, noon, $15, World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St., 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com.
✚ Omer Avital Group
Known locally from performing in the Yemen Blues Tour, the Israel-born composer and arranger Omer Avital is seen as one of the most exciting jazz musicians today. The Omer Avital Group consists of bass, drums, four saxophones and a repertoire that’s punctuated by Avital's original compositions and the group's renowned improvisational skills. The range of sounds couldn’t be anymore opposite — from classical and folk to sounds that span the globe. Wed., Nov. 16, 8 p.m., and 10 p.m., $15, Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St., 215-568-3131, chrisjazzcafe.com.
✚ Shai Maestro Trio
The Shai Maestro Trio features up-and-coming pianist Shai Maestro, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ziv Ravitz. Maestro has performed with world-renowned musicians such as Jorfe Rossy, Ari Hoenigh, Edward Perez, Diego Hart and Avishai Cohen. Sun., Nov. 20, noon, $15, World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St., 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com.
If you haven't read this week's cover story on jazz pianist Jimmy Amadie, you should. Shaun Brady really knocked it out of the park on this one.
"Who the fuck is Jimmy Amadie?"
Doubtless more than a few people will be asking that question when they see Amadie's name on the schedule for this Friday night's Art After 5 performance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He is, after all, a 74-year-old pianist with only a handful of CDs to his name. He didn't make his recording debut until 1996, at the age of 60. His résumé, which does include notable names like Mel Tormé and Woody Herman, stops abruptly at 1967. Which was also the last time he played in front of an audience. Until this weekend.
But on this occasion, it's Jimmy Amadie himself who poses the question. I've asked him, given the severe tendonitis in both hands that sidelined his career more than four decades ago and the health problems that have plagued him in recent years, why he feels the need to return to the stage at all.
"Let's be honest," he answers, sitting in a recliner in his Bala Cynwyd home, right next to the grand piano he can rarely touch. "Who the fuck is Jimmy Amadie? Where's he been? He's a musician like everybody else — why doesn't he play? Is he lazy? Is he a bum? Well, if it takes your hands to play and you have no hands, you can't play."
Read the rest of the article here. Then go see Jimmy's first show since 1967 tonight.
Jimmy Amadie plays Fri., Oct. 14, 5:45 and 7:15 p.m., free with museum admission of $16, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Ben Franklin Parkway, 215-763-8100, philamuseum.org.
I called up the biggest jazz head I know, my grandfather, to pick his brain about his favorite live performances. He named a couple, but emphasized one special epic — Duke Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.”
“Diminuendo” is one of the most iconic jazz performances ever. The most famous rendition comes from the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival when tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves soloed for 27 straight choruses, inciting the crowd, 7000-deep with jazz aficionados and socialites from across the Eastern seaboard, into a frenzy. Some consider it one of the most culturally important live performances of the ’50s. John Fass, in his non-fictional account of the performance, Backstory in Blue, compares it to Woodstock. Newport rejuvenated Ellington’s career and brought big bands back to the forefront.
“Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue” were two songs written and recorded in 1937, during Ellington’s heyday. They were played as separate pieces from their release until 1951.
Today, it’s hard to look back and think that the legendary Duke Ellington was all but washed-up at the time. To summarize the explanation given in Backstory in Blue, the waves of immigrants in the ’30s who had embraced jazz as their first taste of authentic America were beginning to favor smaller ensembles. Post-war youth preferred rhythm and blues (and its offshoots) as the choice popular music. The purists who had championed Duke’s sound had grown older and driven Eisenhower highways and to calmer pastures for their slice of the suburban, picket-fenced American dream. Big band jazz was passé, and Duke Ellington was struggling.
Are you ready for something entirely unrealistic? This video (below) of the Charlie Hunter Trio depicts three musicians. But wait. You can clearly hear four instruments, right?: the drums, sax, guitar and bass.
Well, Charlie Hunter plays guitar and bass at the same time. And the fact that he built an 8-string guitar in order to accommodate bass and guitar strings on the same instrument is not the most bizarre part. The really troubling issue is that he can simultaneously process bass rhythms, chords and lead scales — a task for which Pearl Jam requires three individual musicians. This YouTube vid is from way back in 1995, rumor has it he has consolidated down to a 7-string meta-instrument for his contemporary mind-blowing jazz show.
It's not fair. It's just not.
You have three chances to see him this weekend:
Tonight, 9 p.m.$19, World Café Live, 500 N. Market St., Wilmington, 302-994-1400, queen.worldcafelive.com.
Sat., May 7, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St., 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com.
Pairing jazz and film is natural for Secret Cinema programmer Jay Schwartz. 'Jazz started in the early 20th century and so did the movies,' he says. Schwartz celebrates the couple with a slate of shorts, a cartoon and Soundies ' early music videos viewed in a film jukebox. The program features music by Louis Armstrong, Rogers & Hart and Cab Calloway. Calloway, and his famous drug-referencing song, appears in the seminal Fleischer brothers' 'Minnie the Moocher." In the animated short, Betty Boop and BF Bimbo run away from home only to bump into a ghost walrus who sings the titular tune. But what's really impressive is that the walrus moves with Calloway's exact fluidity; Calloway's rolly-poly dancing was rotoscoped, a technique that allowed animators to capture live action movement (think Richard Linklater's Waking Life, those Charles Schwab commercials, etc.). Check it out below (the videos quality does no justice to the 'toon. Schwartz's print will obviously be better):
One selection, 'He was Her Man' directed by Dudley Murphy is so rare that two sources said it was lost. But, of course, Schwartz has a print.
Jazz & Swing Rarities, Fri., Sept. 25, 8:00 pm, $7, Moore College of Art & Design, 20th & Race Streets, Philadelphia, 215-965-4099, thesecretcinema.com.
Excellent piece in the Detroit Free Press about the Detroit/Philadelphia bassist axis in advance of the Detroit International Jazz Festival where Philly bass man Christian McBride is artist-in-residence.
“It’s not an accident that almost all of my favorite bass players are from Detroit or Philadelphia,” says Christian McBride, the Philadelphia-born bassist who serves as artist-in-residence at the 29th annual Detroit International Jazz Festival, which begins Friday and runs through Labor Day. “You take away Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Percy Heath, Jimmy Garrison, James Jamerson, Alphonso Johnson and the others and you’re left with a very short list.”
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